Cisco pursues 'telepresence' goals

Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers offered a video networking demonstration Tuesday as an example of how network bandwidth will grow drastically over the next two years.

"I'm going to bet there will be a 200 percent increase in [network] loads in two years because of video," Chambers told an audience of IT professional at Cisco Networkers 2006 in Las Vegas.

Chambers demonstrated how video of professional baseball games could be captured from the IP network coming to a home over a broadband line for viewing on a full-room high definition television. That capability will be something corporations can turn to for global meetings and other uses such as telemedicine, Chambers and industry analysts here said.

How soon Chambers' vision of "telepresence" will materialize is a matter of debate, however. Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at Yankee Group in Boston, said it might not materialize for at least five years.

Cisco customers at the Networkers 2006 event agreed that video streaming and videoconferencing will become more important in the next few years, but disagreed with Chambers on how soon demand will spike.

"I'm using some video now, but [Chambers' prediction] is quite an increase in bandwidth, and that's hard to imagine," said Brandon Buffin, systems administrator at Ball Homes in Lexington, Ky. Executives at the home building company use Internet Protocol soft phones on their laptops to conduct meetings while traveling. The laptops can be easily equipped with cameras to become videoconferencing endpoints.

Uses for video will surely grow, he predicted. "Everybody in business agrees that face-to-face communication is more efficient than any other means," Buffin said.

David Siles, CTO for Kane County, Ill., said he has recently received requests from law enforcement officials who want to transmit live video and stored video clips over wired and wireless connections. That would allow police at the scene of a crime, for instance, to transmit images to supervisors in remote locations or other first responders arriving at the scene, he said.

"There's strong interest by law enforcement to pull up a video of an incident because the more information you have in those [police] situations, the better," he said. Kane County is also contemplating a mesh wireless network that could be built in two years to help emergency responders by enabling the transmission of video images, he said.

There is also taxpayer interest in having video streams of county board meetings available for play-back on demand, he said. Under those scenarios, bandwidth demand will definitely increase, he said.

Siles has been in his post nearly four years, and has overseen a network transition from two large centralized Cisco Catalyst 6500 switches to 12 Catalyst 3750 switches distributed through 12 buildings under a decentralized architecture. Siles said he would welcome upgrading to Cisco's 3750G Integrated Wireless LAN Controller, which Cisco announced Tuesday.

The new controller will come with a software upgrade to the new Cisco Unified Wireless Network Software Release 4.0, which helps integrate wired and wireless networks, Cisco officials said. It will sell for US$20,500 for support for up to 25 access points, Cisco said.

Siles said the integration of wired and wireless hardware lowers the need for separate parallel functions for such things as security on two networks. He plans to add the new controller next year as the county's network grows. "It really means fewer moving parts, which will result in savings for us," he said.

Cisco also announced new software features across eight service modules for the Catalyst 6500 switch line, including the availability of a Wireless Services Module for greater scale with WiFi access points. Brad Sandt, lead network engineer at the Park Hill School District in Parkville, Mo., said four Wireless Services Modules have been recently installed to distribute security and other functions to about 900 access points in the school district.

Park Hill resorted to using WiFi to support laptops instead of building computer classrooms, which would have been much more expensive, he said. The system also has about 1,100 IP telephones, he said.

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